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Puppy Not Eating: Causes and What to Do

Puppy tilted head with bowl
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While it may not be a medical emergency if a dog misses a meal, it could also mean something more serious if an adult dog refuses to eat for an extended period of time. The same goes for puppies. A puppy not eating may be more severe than an adult dog, however, as small puppies need to eat regularly to maintain their blood sugar. 

Anorexia is the medical term for when a dog refuses to eat. Anorexia may happen suddenly, or your puppy may gradually eat less and less over time. In this article, you will learn why puppies stop eating, how long a puppy can go without eating, warning signs that your puppy needs immediate veterinary care, and how to encourage a puppy to eat.  

Why Is My Puppy Not Eating?

Puppy laying on ground in kitchen

Just like humans, there are a variety of reasons why a puppy won’t eat:

They’re nauseous. A nauseous puppy will likely not want to eat anything. Nausea can be due to many things, including motion sickness, digestive disorders, intestinal parasites and neurological problems.

They’re sick. If a puppy has a fever, an infectious disease (such as parvo or distemper), is suffering from congenital liver and kidney disease or was accidentally poisoned by ingesting something toxic, it may cause loss of appetite. 

They’re anxious. Psychological distress from changes in routine, rehoming, being left alone, changes to the family or environment, vet visits, etc. can cause a puppy to turn up their nose at food. 

It’s too hot. Like people, dogs don’t like to eat very much if they are hot. 

They’re in pain. Pain from any source can kill an appetite. Common sources of pain in puppies include teething and growing pains. 

They were recently vaccinated. Recently vaccinated puppies can experience mild fever, soreness, and loss of appetite after vaccination. These reactions are usually mild. If your puppy seems to be in severe pain, is vomiting, has a swollen face or hives, or doesn’t eat for more than a day after vaccines, seek veterinary attention immediately. 

Picky eater. Some puppies are picky eaters. If they don’t like their food, they refuse to eat it. However, if you give in to their particular ways and feed them treats or people food instead, you will train them to continue to be picky. If your vet has told you that your puppy is perfectly healthy, you may need to wait your puppy out for a meal or two to convince them to eat the food you are offering under your veterinarian’s supervision.  

How Long Can a Puppy Go Without Eating?

Sweet puppy laying next to a window

Puppies shouldn’t go more than 12 hours without eating. While most healthy adult dogs can go a couple of days without eating without any adverse effects, this is not true of puppies. 

Young and small breed puppies can develop juvenile hypoglycemia because they have very little fat, making it harder for them to regulate their blood sugar and body temperature. Hypoglycemia in puppies is most common in toy breeds, such as Maltese, Chihuahuas, Yorkies, and Toy Poodles

Signs of juvenile hypoglycemia include:

Owners of these toy breeds should keep high fructose corn syrup or sugar water on hand in the event their puppy develops hypoglycemia and seek veterinary attention immediately if they show signs of hypoglycemia. 

How Often Should Puppies Eat?

Two puppies eating out of dog bowls

In general, small and toy breed puppies should be fed every 4-5 hours until they are between 12 and 14 weeks of age, at which point meal times can be extended to every 6-8 hours. Adult toy breeds (16 weeks of age and older) can be fed twice daily. 

For medium to large breed puppies, the following feeding recommendations are general guidelines only:

Puppy AgeFeeding Schedule
4-6 weeksEvery 5-6 hours
8-12 weeks3-4 times per day
12-16 weeks3 times per day
16+ weeks2-3 times per day

Puppy Won’t Eat: What to Watch Out For

Puppy tilting head looking at owner

If your puppy isn’t eating, how do you know when it is a more serious issue? The following warning signs indicate that your puppy’s health may be in danger and it’s time to call a veterinarian and get your puppy seen:

  • Puppy won’t eat or drink anything for longer than 12 hours*
  • Anorexia in conjunction with vomiting
  • Anorexia in conjunction with diarrhea
  • Pseudo-anorexia (your puppy is hungry and wants to eat but can’t eat because of problems chewing or swallowing their food)
  • Anorexia in conjunction with lethargy, weakness, excessive tiredness or any other signs of sickness
  • If you know your puppy has eaten something they shouldn’t (toys, people food, toxins, cleaning supplies, human medications etc.)
  • If you’re informed that other puppies in the litter are ill and not eating
  • If your puppy was recently vaccinated
  • If your puppy was recently at a place that many other dogs visit, such as a dog park or doggie daycare
  • If multiple dogs in your household or neighborhood are ill 

*If your puppy has lost their appetite but is otherwise acting happy and healthy and drinking water, it is okay to try to coax your puppy to eat if they miss a couple of meals. If it lasts longer than a day, speak with your veterinarian.

How to Get a Puppy to Eat

Puppy licking lips eating from bowl

If a veterinarian has ruled out medical causes for your puppy’s poor appetite, here are some recommendations to get your puppy to eat:

Set a specific mealtime. Leaving food out for long periods may make your puppy less likely to eat. Offer a small amount of food at the regular feeding time. When your puppy is done, pick up the food and don’t offer any other food until the next meal. If your puppy refuses to eat, pick it up and try again one hour later. If your puppy refuses to eat for longer than one day, seek veterinary attention. 

Make it a little more enticing. Try warming food for ten seconds in a microwave to increase the aroma, and don’t forget to stir it. You can also add the following to your puppy’s meals to entice them to eat: chicken broth, canned food, meal toppers and white meat from a rotisserie chicken.

Try smaller food. If you have a small breed, get food formulated for small mouths. 

Move the food bowl. Place your puppy’s food in a quiet, low-traffic area of the house and calmly praise your puppy when they eat. Alternatively, try spreading canned food on a lick mat or putting food in food puzzles or dispensers to provide mental stimulation and food fun.

Try fewer treats. Cut back on the treats, only use treats for training and cut the treats into small pieces. This reduces calories, but your puppy still thinks they are getting a lot because there are lots of pieces! Treats should generally make up no more than 10 percent of a dog’s diet.

Ensure that you are accurately judging your puppy’s appetite. Many pet parents become concerned if their puppy doesn’t eat as much as a pet food bag says they will. Every puppy is unique, so ask your veterinarian if your puppy is at a healthy weight and how much your puppy should be eating each day. 

Feed your puppy separately from other animals in the home. Also, keep kids away while your puppy is trying to eat. If your puppy is crate trained, you could try feeding your puppy in the crate. 

Provide safe chews for teething pain. Help relieve pain from teething by providing appropriate chew toys, like a frozen Kong filled with canned puppy food.

Reduce stress. If your puppy is stressed or anxious, try using a pheromone spray or diffuser near your puppy’s feeding station to lower stress. 

Stimulate their appetite. Walk your puppy or engage in other exercises or games before meal times.Finally, if you switch your puppy’s food, do so slowly to avoid upsetting your puppy’s tummy.